When you're a three-time Grand Prix champion, reigning 2013 World Champion, and currently ranked 7th in Pro Player standings, what brings you to battle in Montreal?
Shahar Shenhar was looking for nothing less than a Top 8 here in Montreal.
"I was staying in Boston," Shahar Shenhar said. "I'm staying with Dave Shiels and friends through the StarCityGames Invitational." The camaraderie and friendship found among pro players is a common theme for those at the top. Making friends not only gives you places to stay as you travel the world, but people to play and pass the time with.
Facing off against Shahar was another familiar face and world traveler: Valentin Mackl. With three 2013 Grand Prix Top 8s to his name, Mackl was still looking for that final breakthrough. With a Limited Top 8 at Grand Prix Valencia, Mackl's skill with booster packs wasn't in question.
Making another run to a Top 8 would require perfection from both competitors, and losing here likely meant the dream for winning would be over.
The first game was a constant race. An early Wingsteed Rider and Anvilwrought Raptor gave Shenhar an aerial pair to fly over the defensive creatures Mackl played. However, Mackl bestowed twice upon his Meletis Astronomer to provide a nigh unblockable beatstick to race back.
Mackl's small fry became a big guy, thanks to bestow.
Mackl's Gray Merchant of Asphodel put Shenhar to 4 life – Mackl back to 16 – and undid the work of the air force.
Valentin Mackl was happy with how his draft worked out.
The second game led off with Shenhar playing small, aggressive creatures again – Favored Hoplite, Leonin Snarecaster, Lagonna-Band Elder – but Asphodel Wanderer and Felhide Minotaur on Mackl's side promised to hold them back.
Nyxborn Shieldmate buffed Shenhar's Elder to a respectable 4/4, keeping him in the racing position. Agent of the Fates and Meletis Astronomer looked to finally bind up Shenhar's offense, but Glimpse the Sun God forced Mackl to chump away his Astronomer. After bestowing on Agent of Fates – leaving Shenhar with just his buff Lagonna-Band Elder – Mackl ran into Divine Verdict and Fearsome Temper.
Down to 6 life to Shenhar's 16, Mackl had to do a lot of damage to catch up. Sip of Hemlock off the top put Shenhar down to just Nyxborn Shieldmate, letting Mackl's motley crew of critters take an 8 life chunk out of Shenhar's lead. Without any more creatures to play, Shenhar was quickly overrun with what Mackl had left.
"So were you here for pro points?" Mackl asked after Shenhar extended the hand.
"Top 8," Shenhar said.
"You probably can't make it then, can you?"
"Well good luck anyway," Mackl offered in condolence.
"Thanks. You too."
Valentin Mackl defeats (7) Shahar Shenhar, 2-0
How did his draft go? "I guess pretty well," Mackl said with a smile. "I started off with Phenax, God of Deception. Obviously I tried to be blue-black. I cut off all the black in the first pack – literally picked every black card I saw. In the second pack I got rewarded for cutting black pretty hard. Even though I opened up nothing good I got passed Agent of Fates and Abhorrent Overlord. Then I grabbed some value as well," said Mackl, flashing a Thoughtseize as well.
"Obviously Gray Merchant of Asphodel is the best card in the deck," said Mackl, fanning a suite of black creatures. With so many ways to rack up devotion to black in his deck there wasn't much room to disagree with Mackl's claim.